I really wasn’t expecting much from Saturday. When we woke low, grey clouds were barely clearing the hilltops, there was a light spattering of rain falling and to top it all off I had to stay within easy reach of home and a mobile signal due to work commitments (a surprisingly tricky duo to pull off in Wales even in this day and age). No escapism for us this weekend then but with the Millennium coastal park just down the road we’re never completely out of options and Tywyn Bach seemed like an ideal area to explore. The fact that it turned into a birding bonanza was a complete surprise with many of our long awaited migrants finally putting in their first appearances of the year. You’d never have guessed it from the empty, windswept beach which greeted us first thing.
Dog walkers were keeping the hoped for waders away but we were delighted to find a flock of fourteen Sand Martins around the eroded sand cliff which was formed a couple of winters ago. After closer inspection it became apparent that they were in fact exploring old/new nesting holes along its upper reaches, the first relatively local colony I’ve come across. Quite how we managed to miss the obvious signs on previous visits is beyond me. Interestingly several of the birds were actually landing on the beach itself and on occasion tugging at pieces of seaweed, presumably on the lookout for insects rather than prospecting for potential nesting materials.
Out on the Burry it was very quiet indeed with only an occasional floating log causing any excitement, right up until I spotted a Gannet off towards Whiteford. In the general greyness it shone gloriously but sadly never strayed any nearer. Not something which could be said of our next find which, if anything, could have done with being a little more distant. As we rounded the coast into what I refer to as the amphitheatre (a large earthwork which seemingly has no purpose other than to look nice, which it does) a flock of at least 45 Whimbrel took to the air silently and fanned out across the bay. They reformed over towards the dredger pontoon which was where we caught up with them again a little later. I was determined to make a better approach this time round and by peering over the embankment managed to get a couple of decent shots.
This is by far the largest Whimbrel flock I’ve seen and its individuals were relatively compact compared to the comparatively bloated Curlew. Once upon a time we used to agonise between the two but thankfully time in the field has taught us well and the differences are now pretty clear. Another species which provides little difficulty is the Skylark and we found two very approachable individuals in the same area. As usual they were invisible right up until we were almost upon them but for once they didn’t completely disappear once resettled. If only there’d been a little more light available.
Of course sod’s law dictates that you’ll get exactly what you want just as soon as the moment has passed, and thus the sun broke through a couple of minutes later. Typical. It was however great timing for a species I’ve been after for a very long time, the Grasshopper Warbler. I caught a snatch of their distinctive reeling call from scrubland behind the amphitheatre and after zeroing in on the rough locality managed to detect at least two more reeling males. All were incredibly loud but despite much searching remained elusive. Having been in this situation before I just couldn’t leave it there though as an audio tick is nowhere near good enough to make it onto my personal life list. Instead we hunted around and managed to find a track leading straight back through the area in question. Roughly halfway along a bird shot out of the undergrowth setting collective pulses racing before landing on the lower branches of a Willow allowing us to finally set eyes on a species I’ve been after for years. The fact that it then turned and belted out its call for a few moments was just the icing on a very well made cake. What a bird and well worth the wait. Unfortunately I missed the chance for a photo making sure that Emma got good views as well (ever the gentleman) but sometimes the experience is worth more than any photo. Saying that I did record a little audio of the reeling as it really is quite a fantastic sound. I should have it uploaded tomorrow.
With a couple of cracking migrants and a brand new lifer already in the bag I’d have been happy to end the day there but the neighbouring pond had other ideas. Again it was a distinctive call which grabbed the attention, this time unmistakeably belonging to a Sedge Warbler. Watching the reeds we found at least four individuals, our first of the year and proof that the migrant floodgates have finally opened. There was also the possibility of a Reed Warbler but sadly our views were too brief to be sure and I’d rather err on the side of caution for now. There could be no doubt over the Reed Buntings however which, like the Sedge Warblers, led us a merry dance around the pond’s fringes.
The neighbouring trees held several singing Whitethroats and a female Blackcap whilst Swallows and Sand Martins continually swooped down low across the water. All this aerial activity seemed to go unnoticed by a nesting Mute Swan and recently fledged family of five Coots, as it did the three pairs of Gadwall which popped in to feed.
A little further down the coast we stumbled across what I now believe to be the remains of Tywyn Bach harbour. This was once the Eastern most terminus of the Kidwelly and Llanelly canal, built around 1832 and operated until its replacement by rail some time in 1859. Strangely I can find almost no history or old photographs on the internet so let this be the first of the harbour in its current state.
Apart from a nice bit of history the old harbour also delivered our first two Common Sandpipers of the year, not forgetting a couple of Butterflies including Peacock and Green-veined White plus this rather fine Ashy Mining Bee.
Returning to the car we could still hear the Grasshopper Warblers reeling and there seemed to have been a gentle increase in hirundine numbers since the morning. Still no Swifts however but based on these sightings they really can’t be that far away.